Sunday, May 30, 2010

Maddening Marrakech

Day six.
Marrakech is insane. Narrow streets chock full of loud vendors, their kitschy wares, befuddled tourists browsing, men with donkey carts, women on motorcycles and stray cats all coming at you at once. The medina here is a showpiece for tourists: Moroccan culture the way you want it. It seems like Marrakech is suffering from a sort of self-imposed orientalism -- Marrakshis know what tourists want. They want the Morocco of Delacroix, with its harems, its tiger skins, its snake charmers, its souks brimming with goods. And they are only too happy to deliver. And to sell.

Despite this though, I find myself pretty smitten by it all. Sure, Marrakech isn't as 'exotic' as all that for me. But that hasn't stopped me from enjoying its many sights. And its food.

I've been going at the food with gusto. Though I'm working on a tight budget, the dirham (Moroccan currency) gets you far. If you eat like a local, and steer clear from the sexy/trendy/cool restaurants that come dime a dozen here to cater to tourists who want to sip their pomegranate martinis on rooftops overlooking towering minarets, you get a lot of bang for your buck (unfortunately, its really hard not to get seduced by the gloss of these establishments, especially if you're me). Tagines, couscous, grilled meats, hearty lentil soup: that's what Morocco is all about. For lunch, many Marrakshis love convenience and Moroccan takes on Levantine and Mediterranean food is eaten à emporter. Falafel, schawarma, brochettes -- all for 4 dollars or less.

I've met a lot of people at the hostel. But the more time I spend with them, the more I realize that this is me time. And wow, if you think people at Williams are generally annoying, you need to get out there and realize the only element more abundant than hydrogen is stupidity. I have been asked the following questions:
"What's a minaret?"
"Where's Tunisia?"
"Where's Fez? Is it in Morocco?"

Marrakech is great, but after five days, I kind of feel like I'm ... done. I'm excited to go to Fez next (less excited about the seven and a half hour train ride). In the meanwhile though, I have two more days to really get to know the Red City. There's already a level of familiarity I've achieved with the immediate vicinity of my hostel. There's nothing like stepping out into the calm clay-colored alleyway just outside the hostel and walking its cool winding path until its spills out into the madness of the market.

Probably the most arresting moment of my trip so far was when I was browsing a book stand in the market and I came across a copy of Amours Sorcières by Tahar Ben Jelloun, my favorite Moroccan novelist. On the cover was John Singer Sargent's Fumée d'Ambregris, my absolute favorite painting at the Clark. I whipped it up -- it was meant to be.

P.S. I'm obsessed. I love Morocco. I can't tell which is better. The music. Or the video.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Medina Be Merry

So here I am: Marrakech. Yesterday I started my journey from Williamstown and less than 24 hours later I find myself tucked away in a beautiful riad-turned-hostel lost in the winding lanes of the medina.
The flight from Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc was uneventful - except for the fact there were probably about a thousand and one babies who all decided to have nervous breakdowns at right about the same time. Sleep was definitely out of the question.
After a painfully slow passport control process at Casablanca, I was on a train to Casa L'Oasis station where I would eventually switch onto a train that would take me to Marrakech. The rolling Moroccan countryside, the tattooed Berber women on donkeys and the wind in my hair made for the most euphoric mix. I have never been as excited about this project as I was then.

Things that have surprised me this far:
- French is spoken absolutely everywhere and people navigate between Arabic and French with ease. I was well-aware of the prevalence of French in Morocco, but I had no idea that it was this widespread.
- Since I have been getting by with French, I'm surprised that I've been addressed with the informal form twice in a day (tutoyer: to refer to someone as tu, thought be be very familiar or condescending depending on context). Generally, this is thought to be rather rude - but maybe they think I'm young, or maybe it's a regional thing that doesn't apply outside of France and Quebec.
- The developments in Guéliz, Marrakech's new town, smells so strongly of Gulf-style expansion projects. I don't know how I feel about that.

Since I'm staying at a hostel, I've gotten caught up with the company of my dorm mates: a woman from Brazil, a guy from Mexico and another guy from the States. I agreed to check out Djemaa el Fna (the main square in Marrakech) and the souks with them. It was nice to have them around (I didn't realize it would hit me so fast that I was now alone in a foreign country) and it definitely made the souks less overwhelming - somehow there's strength in numbers - but it reminded me that I really need to be alone for this. I quickly began to find their company annoying and wanted to get away from their touristy excursion. I finally managed to shake them off and got to walk around the square alone, taking in a tall glass of jus d'orange before heading back to the hostel for a rest.

I'm caught between several different conflicting emotions right now: I'm jet-lagged, tired, disoriented, excited and a little lonely. But there's just one way to deal with that: get out there and get lost.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


It's been a long two years, and here I am done with half of my college career. It went by so fast, I felt like I moved in yesterday, yadda yadda yadda and all that jazz.
But I don't think I've been more ready to take a break from a place where I feel like my identity has become inextricable from my immediate environment. I want to know that I am a real, whole person outside of this tiny campus and not just a Purple Person who is only someone because he's a Williams student at Williams College. Does that make any sense? I think that it's just a convoluted way of saying that I'm ready to live a more fast-paced life for a while.

As I stand on the edge of breaking away from this campus, I feel like I've had such little time to reflect on all the incredibly positive benefits I've derived from my time here. The many long plane, train and taxi rides to come will be perfect for a little mulling, but I know for a fact now that there's nothing like stepping out onto the campus on balmy morning wearing purple short-shorts, a Goodrich soy dirty chai in hand, taking in the fresh dewy smell of the air, a scent I have yet to find anywhere outside north-east America or eastern Canada. I walk across quads excited by the smiles of people who have had, in one way or another, a profound effect on my sense of place and belonging.

Though I could walk through the corridors of my high school with similar confidence, my strides at Williams have been free of the blend of insecurity and pride that hounded me throughout my younger teenage years. And I have this comfortable, welcoming nest of a campus to thank for it.

But things have gotten a little too comfortable, to the point where I feel like I'm not being challenged to face the real world enough in the formative years when skills are supposed to be honed (hello, small elite New England liberal arts college, who'd-a-thunk?).

Williams has made me lose a lot of perspective.

I'm leaving with a lot of loose strings left untied. Pressing the "pause" button, I am going to take a break, come back and pick things up where I left off, but hopefully with a better capacity to deal with the issues that arise with clarity and rationality.

Maybe I'm asking too much from myself, but I've always lived life with goals. And I've defined the next. So I guess I might have meditated on the topic more than I think I have.

Alright. No more procrastination. It's time to get packing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where's Waldo?

Just so people know where I am over the summer (in case we're in the same place at the same time):

May 25 - 31: Marrakech
June 1 - 3: Fez
June 4 - 7: Meknes
July 8 - 10: Madrid
July 11 - 6: Granada (with pitstops in Cordoba and Sevilla)
July 7 - 11: New York City
July 12 - 28: Kuwait
July 29 - August 20: New York City/Williamstown/Washington DC/Somewhere in between

If you're around, I want to see you. So call me.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Life's So Hard

Caught in the thick of finals, I find myself having a meltdown over the problem of what to pack. The issue is a multifaceted dilemma:
a. I need to pack up everything I own because the school year is over and put all my stuff in storage.
b. But I need to make sure I keep everything that I'll be needing on my travels in the fall.
c. And also the summer.
d. But I want to travel light if I'm going to be running around the mazes of the medina.

... I'm sure there's a solution
Yet, rather than addressing it right now, I've decided to procrastinate and revel in my newfound obsession: Katy Perry's fresh new song.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Countdown to the Imperial Cities

In less than two weeks, I head to the Kingdom of Morocco to visit the imperial cities for two weeks before heading to Andalusia (via Madrid) for a month-long sojourn. This itinerary is part of a fellowship I was awarded from the Robert J. Wilmers '90 Memorial Grant from the college and its donors.

The project I plan on undertaking stems from my burgeoning interest in North African diasporic studies and the contemporary literatures of Morocco (as well as Tunisia and Algeria). I took a French class here at Williams my freshman fall entitled Contemporary North African Short Stories and later worked with my professor over the summer as a research assistant on a project that aimed at analyzing literary representations of the city of Tangier as a point of entry and exile. My love of all things Francophone and Moroccan took flight and soared.

My project aims to treat the following themes:
1. The Moroccan medina as a culinary cultural artifact
2. The transposition of the medina by Moroccan immigrants onto public space in Andalusia
3. The appropriation of Moorish legacy in gastronomic entrepreneurial ventures by Moroccan restauranteurs working in Granada
4. Food as a narrative of immigration and identity and as a weapon against xenophobia
5. The social psychology behind the 're-colonization' of the Albaicin quarter of Granada through business

I will be in Marrakech, Fès and Meknès studying the medina. I then move to Granada (by way of a 3 day stopover in Madrid) to luxuriate in cross-cultural issues for an entire month.

Send the hounds if you think I'm lost somewhere in the winding streets of Marrakech.

¡Que excitación!

The Odyssey

Maybe it's a little conceited of me to compare myself to Odysseus, but fresh out of Bolton's narrative theory class, I couldn't think of another analogy. So bear with me on this one.
I started this blog to consolidate all those e-mails to my parents, FB messages to my friends and flashy postcards to my real friends (...joking) into one easily accessible memoir.

In a couple of weeks' time, I start half a year of extensive travel. It begins with research for a travel fellowship I was awarded this year, which will take me to Morocco and Spain. After a brief visit with my parents back in Kuwait, I then commence on a global semester abroad with the International Honors Program. My program, which will deal with issues of urban culture, sociology and sustainability, takes a group of 30 students to different points around the globe for comparative analysis. On my roster are the following cities: Detroit (USA, 2 weeks); Sao Paulo & Curitiba (Brazil, 4 weeks); Cape Town (South Africa, 5 weeks); Hanoi (Vietnam, 5 weeks). Quite the whirlwind tour.
So follow me on my travels as I learn more about the world and myself in turn.
A bientôt!